Monday, November 26, 2012

Skyfall (2012) - Bond Changes Direction Again

Skyfall, The Billion Dollar Bond Movie

IMAX poster for Skyfall

After a four-year interregnum due to MGM's financial difficulties, the James Bond saga returned with a vengeance with "Skyfall" (2012), which does not disappoint fans.  Directed by Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") for MGM and EON Productions, there is a lot to enjoy for anyone who has been following the adventures of the British spy over the years.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall
Daniel Craig looking very dapper with a Martini nearby
While Daniel Craig returns as Bond, much about this Bond film is new.  The famous gun-barrel sequence occurs at the end of the film, not the beginning, and both Moneypenny and M are key players in the action..
Daniel Craig and director Sam Menzies in Skyfall
Daniel Craig and director Sam Menzies
Bond (Daniel Craig) chases a man who has stolen a list of NATO agents.  They wind up on top of a train, where they fight it out.  Eve (Naomie Harris) is another British agent watching this who is ordered by their boss M (Judi Dench) to fire at the struggling men in hopes of helping Bond to win the fight.

Judi Dench as M in Skyfall
Judith Dench as "M"
Eve hits Bond with her shot, and the other man gets away.  Bond falls into a river, apparently dead. The list is lost to the enemy, and so M is disgraced and forced to retire. Before leaving, though, she determines to rectify the situation. Bond returns from seclusion after barely surviving the train fight and assists M in retrieving the list while at the same time protecting her from an unknown assailant.
Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny in Skyfall
The new Miss Moneypenny, Naomie Harris
It is a fairly simply story.  Everybody wants the list of agents, but it slowly becomes clear that the list is simply being used to even some old scores.  This does not come from an story, so it has modern twists and turns that bring the character of Bond up to date.
Daniel Craig holding a gun as James Bond in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond holding his gun
It all ultimately comes down to protecting a friend, and that is what Bond is best at.  We learn about Bond's childhood as he returns to his roots in order to carry out his mission.
Daniel Craig as James Bond aiming a gun in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond getting ready to fire
The film is jam-packed with action, as you would expect.  The fight atop the train is good old, hard-swinging Bond at his best.  A sequence towards the end, when Bond must eliminate a team of assassins sent by his opponent, is full of the kinds of tricks and diversions often seen in the "Home Alone" films.  Craig gets to bring out Bond's cleverness and guile as opposed to using his fists and guns.
Daniel Craig as James Bond standing on a roof in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond looking out from a rooftop
Other characters are developed far beyond what we previously have seen.  Miss Moneypenny's first name finally is revealed, and she turns out to be much more involved in the actual spy business than has been apparent all these years.
Daniel Craig as James Bond running down a street in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond running down a street
The film runs 143 minutes, the second-longest film of the series after the recent "Casino Royale." The title refers to Bond's Scottish childhood ancestral home, to which he returns at a key part of the story.  The main villain is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a flamboyant figure who is unlike any major Bond nemesis of the past.  Why he is causing problems and what motivates him only becomes apparent late in the story.
Daniel Craig as James Bond having a fistfight atop a train in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond having a fistfight on a train
"Skyfall" is the first Bond film to depart completely from the Ian Fleming stories.  Adele sings the theme song, which echoes the classic compositions by John Barry such as "Goldfinger" and "Moonraker" much more than it does the more recent efforts by Madonna and Jack Black/Alicia Keys.  It is somewhat sad and downbeat, which does not quite match the mood of the film, but it would sound appropriate on any compilation of Bond theme songs.
Daniel Craig as James Bond standing in front of his Aston Martin in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond standing by the classic Aston Martin
The film scored at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing film in the franchise and setting box office records in England.  It opened at 3505 locations in North American locations, the most in franchise history, and quickly earned back its production costs.
James Bond being touched by Javier Bardem in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond with villain Javier Bardem
True fans of Bond will spot scenes that echo those in several of Ian Fleming's works.  He is injured and looks older and more tired than in Craig's first couple of films in the series, giving the character a sympathetic quality that may have been lacking a bit in those efforts.  The classic Bond Aston Martin makes an appearance, as does a new Q who has some useful gadgets for our favorite spy to use.
Daniel Craig as James Bond firing a gun in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond firing a big gun

"Skyfall" is an exciting spy film with lots of action. You likely will enjoy it if you favor that type of film.  There are not many Bond girls this time, with Berenice Marlohe holding up that end of the story quite nicely.
Daniel Craig as James Bond talking with Berenice Marlohe in Skyfall
Daniel Craig as James Bond with the latest Bond Girl
Early reports are that , who was one of the screenwriters for "Skyfall" along with and , will author the next two Bond films.  They are said to be tied together in a two-part episode, which would be a first for the Bond franchise.  After that, it likely will be time for a new Bond and new stories that drift further and further away from Ian Fleming's vision.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Goldfinger (1964) - Sean Connery at the Top of his Game

Goldfinger with James Bond 007 as Played by Sean Connery

Original poster Goldfinger 1964

"Goldfinger" (1964) is the best-remembered film in the James Bond oevure. It follows British secret agent James Bond (Sean Connery), license to kill 007, as he foils a plot to plunge the world into financial chaos. "Goldfinger" was directed by Guy Hamilton for Eon Produtions, the company of Canadian Harry Saltzman and American Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. It set the standard for action/adventure crime thrillers that the first two film in the series had established. German actor Gert Frobeis Goldfinger, a villain obsessed with gold and who covets it so much that he doesn't want anyone else to have any. In brief, the film covers the attempt by Goldfinger, who is obsessed by gold, to corner the market on that precious metal. It is up to James Bond to try and stop him. Along the way, Bond spars with Goldfinger and plays a cat-and-mouse game with him that he almost can't escape.

Goldfinger banner
Margaret Nolan as the golden girl
This film is visually striking in several different ways. Aside from all the beautiful women that became a Bond trademark, you have scenic shots of Miami Beach to open the film, vistas of Fort Knox and the men that guard it, a car crusher scene that lives on in infamy, and several aerial establishing shots. It all makes for a visual feast.

Gert Frobe Goldfinger 1964
Goldfinger busy cheating at cards
Sean Connery really set the mark for those brave enough to follow him in hte James Bond role. Roger Moore was in several more films than Connery, but he never gets the same respect. David Niven was Ian Fleming's choice, and Niven actually did play Bond in "Casino Royale" (1967), but he was too old by the time the franchise picked up steam to play an agent in his prime.

Harold Sakata Oddjob Goldfinger
Harold Sakata as Oddjob.

Flashy spy adventures, of course, were all the rage in the 1960s, with "Flint," "Bond" and "The Prisoner." Some would say that the Bond films started the whole trend, but the roots go a bit deeper. Cary Grant playing an advertising executive forced into the spy game in Alfred Hitchcock's "North By Northwest" (1959), the film that really popularized the genre. James Bond cars became all the rage during the 1960s.

Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore, about to be taken down.

Gert Frobe uttered the immortal "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!" line at a key point, cementing his place in Bond lore. Harold Sakata, as Goldfinger's henchman "Oddjob," set the standard for such roles throughout the entire Bond series. He must be ranked with the top Bond henchmen of all time, along with Richard Kiel over a decade later at "Jaws." Honor Blackman is epic as the classic henchwoman, ably filling the shoes of Rosa Klebs in the previous year's "From Russia with Love."

Margaret Nolan as Binky in Goldfinger
"Binky" Margaret Nolan didn't say much, but then, she didn't have to.

You may see many more pictures of the Golden Girl on my separate Margaret Nolan Tribute page. Sean Connery truly was at the top of his game in this film. This was his best role, and this was his best portrayal of James Bond. After this, you could see the first faint stirrings of boredom with the role. Ultimately, he voluntarily gave it up to focus on other projects, at which he also did a fine job.
Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger
"Coffee, tea or getting thrown out of the plane?"

Even then, everyone knew the power of the Bond franchise. Honor Blackman quit her role on "The Avengers" to star in this film (or so the story goes) and was replaced by Diana Rigg (who also later became a Bond girl, of course). Blackman was one of the oldest Bond girls, and perhaps partly for that reason more than held her own opposite Sean Connery.

Margaret Nolan being touched
That is Shirley Eaton on the bed.

This film also solidified the "Bond girl" phenomenon. While there had been plenty of fine women in the two previous instalments, here they seemed to be everywhere, from the female pilots tasked with assaulting Fort Knox to Bond's eternal admirer, Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, who had been in the first two films as well) to Margaret Nolan and Shirley Eaton. The role of a Bond girl was to look good, not to talk. Nolan had a tiny role as Bond's masseuse, Binky, and was onscreen only for a matter of seconds. She appeared everywhere in the promotion of the film, however, and really helped sell the film. The famous "golden girl" Shirley Eaton, the one who as helping Goldfinger cheat at cards but then got distracted by Bond and made Goldfinger lose. She likewise appeared only briefly, but lives on in film history.

Sean Connery posing in front of Margaret Nolan
Shirley Eaton in the background.

Everybody is familiar with "Goldfinger." When people want to caricature Bond, this is the place that they start, since the storyline is the first that adopted an almost campy, swaggering tone in places. The 1967 "Casino Royale" parody is a case in point. You don't parody something unless it has a lot going for it.

Sean Connery white tuxedo Goldfinger
Sean Connery as James Bond - the epitome of elegance.

The theme composed by John Barry and sung by Shirley Bassey (the first of three Bond themes she would do) is one of the best. We will see many of the ingredients of this film, from the menacing henchman to the cute girls to the funky gadgets, in subsequent instalments. While the Bond series may have been popular before this film, afterwards its fame skyrocketed and led to the 20+ sequels.

Below are original film trailers:



This will be my collection of reviews of James Bond 007 films and, perhaps eventually, other items such as books and music. Please post any comments you may have!
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